It was an overcast day on the Oregon Coast near Bandon. Applegate Christian Fellowship was holding their annual School of Ministry retreat, and a teaching session had just ended. Students emerged from the building and headed their separate ways, each seeking a place to contemplate the message. One student, Loren Anderson, breathed in the salt-scented air and decided on his destination: he headed down the road to the beach.
The eighteen year old had journeyed here from Medford, where he served in Children’s Ministry for Applegate. The teaching had drawn a parallel between their school and Elisha’s School of Prophets. Jon Courson, the teacher, had examined specifically 2 Kings 6 and the story of Elisha making the axe head float, emphasizing the importance of relying on the Holy Spirit for the strength to minister to God’s people.
Courson dismissed the students with an assignment. Says Loren, “He told us to go out and take some time to seek God about where we were at in ministry—whether we were sharp and relying on the Spirit.”
As Loren walked toward the beach, he came upon a bend in the road. Instead of following its circuitous route, he cut through the forest. He turned the message over in his mind. Loren had joined the staff of Applegate just a year before, in 1996, at seventeen years old. But what ministry, exactly, was God calling him to?
Not long after leaving the trail, he came upon a stream and followed its course. It wasn’t large, just about three feet across, and the foliage grew so lavishly on its banks that at times it was nearly impassable. He pressed on until his progress was forcibly arrested by a tree lying across the stream. As he approached he saw something else.
“Right next to the stream there was an axe that had been put into the ground, just sticking up,” Loren recalls. “It was old, probably thirty years old. I grabbed it.” Loren held the tool in shock. The series of events that had led the owner to abandon both tree and axe was impossible to decipher, but the message it held for Loren, especially after hearing Courson’s specific teaching, was clear.
As he continued to the beach, he felt a pressure growing in him. When he reached the sand he broke down weeping, wrestling with the word he knew God was speaking into his life. “It was at that point that I really sensed God calling me to teach people, share the gospel, and plant a church,” says Loren. At one point, in desperation, he hurled the axe into the ocean. As if with a laugh, the mighty Pacific tossed it back. Says Loren, “I had learned before that he called me as a son, but now I knew he called me to ministry.”
Although it would take a few years for circumstances to follow, Loren now knew what he was meant to do.
“I had learned before that He called me as a son, but now I knew He called me to ministry.”
Loren Anderson grew up in perpetual motion. Born on September 29th, 1978 in Medford, Oregon, before he entered the fourth grade, his family had moved eight times, mostly around Oregon with a stint in Nebraska. His father, Loren Sr., worked in insurance for most of Loren’s childhood, while his mother, Robyn, managed retirement funds. By 1989, Loren was joined by three siblings, Sharon, Brett, and Laura, and the family settled in Grants Pass.
Throughout their early gypsy-life, the Andersons attended the Assemblies of God Church. “I grew up in the church not understanding the gospel,” says Loren. “I thought ‘church’ was the place God told me what to do to be accepted by him. I rebelled against that.”
But in eighth grade, something began to shift. “I met a girl named Jessica Courson on a youth trip hosted by another church. I started talking to her frequently and eventually went to her dad’s church, Applegate.” This didn’t end his rebellious phase. Then, in his freshman year, Loren underwent surgeries on both shoulders and had to give up baseball while he recovered. Leaving sports impacted his friend-group and status in high school, so his parents offered him the option to attend Cascade Christian High School the following year—the same school that Jessica attended.
“They told me I could have a car if I went there, so I went. I pretty much had to lie to get into the school as far as my faith was concerned,” says Loren wryly.
“I grew up in the church not understanding the gospel,” says Loren. “I thought ‘church’ was the place God told me what to do to be accepted by him. I rebelled against that.”
Junior year rolled around. Loren was thinking ahead now, looking toward a career as an elementary school teacher. It was on a school holiday that Loren’s final shove into salvation occurred.
“Jessica was coming to meet us for breakfast and she got in a car accident. She died,” says Loren, the simplicity of his explanation belying the depths of that loss. Her death impacted the entire community. Loren watched, astounded, as her father navigated the aftermath with faith. “I started hearing grace from the church. Through the circumstance of death, God got a hold of my heart,” says Loren. “I was baptized at 17.”
The rebellious years had come to a crushing end, but it was in this moment of despair that Loren fully committed to God. Shortly after his baptism, he began leading a high school Bible study. “It grew to about 45 people right away. I basically just copied my pastor’s sermons and retaught them.” Loren started helping in children’s ministry that year, which confirmed his plan for a degree in elementary education.
In fact, he had already signed on with Simpson University. But before he left, he attended a particularly moving service. “I was listening to a sermon in an amphitheater. It was a Sunday morning. And I felt the spirit of God really move in the gathering. There were over 100 people who got baptized,” he says. After that, Loren’s friend, Jon Courson’s son, decided not to leave for college. “I told him, ‘I don’t know what to do. I feel like I need to stay too,’” says Loren, “and he said I should go talk to his dad.”
Loren met with Jon a month before starting school. “I said I felt I needed to stay and I’d do whatever—be a janitor, help with anything, whatever. He said he’d get back to me.” With one week left before school, Jon invited Loren to come on staff to teach 1st-6th grade.
The Fellowship at Bend
In all, Loren spent eight years training at Applegate. In that time he met, married, and served with his wife, Amber, and the two built a house in Medford. By 2003, it seemed like they were at Applegate for the long haul. Peter-John Courson was taking over for his father, and Loren was being groomed for leadership in the church at large, outside of Children’s Ministry.
But in late 2003 a college retreat led them to Bend. “I was driving home, and it was about one in the morning, and I just felt that I was supposed to plant a church in Bend,” says Loren. “We didn’t have anything on the radar to move. But we really felt prompted in that.” Loren sought Jon’s counsel, but there was no missing God’s prompting. Loren remembered the axe he’d seen in the forest. It was time to fulfill that calling.
“I called my brother, Brett, and said we were thinking of going to Bend, so he drove down—he was living in Portland at the time—and met me there and we drove around Central Oregon.”
“We figured if even two people could be served, we should do it.”
As they explored, God provided confirmations that sealed the decision: a woman who owned a Redmond coffee shop who said she couldn’t find a church that taught the Bible, a man in Denny’s who asked for prayer. “We figured if even two people could be served, we should do it.”
So, Amber and Loren started the process. They didn’t have financing, other than three months severance from Applegate and the money they’d gotten from their house sale. Then a friend who had heard they were planting a church called and asked what it would take to sustain them for a year. “I told him $38,000 to rent a school and $12,000 for my salary. By March of that year we had a $50,000 check.” The Fellowship at Bend was born.
Their first meeting was April 4, 2004, and consisted of people from Applegate who drove up to support them. “The second gathering was on Easter and was primarily made up of my family. That’s when I realized what church planting was actually going to be like.” Loren’s entire family, parents and siblings included, relocated to Bend to support the church. They began in the gospel of John at Jewel Elementary, and in May added a Wednesday night study of Genesis. By fall they had 70 members and were financially self-sustaining.
In 2005, Amber and Loren welcomed their first child, and now have a crew of four. With Loren’s love of hunting, fishing, coaching, and snowboarding, Bend has been an ideal place to settle in. “I don’t relax; I have four kids,” he jokes, “but I do enjoy being with them. I enjoy spending time with Amber. I look forward to vacations with the family, or just with my wife, and I love riding in my ‘77 Ford Bronco.”
From a rebellious teen to a dynamic youth leader to the head pastor of a church, Loren has felt God’s hand moving in his life with consistency and clarity. From an axe in the woods, to the loss of a friend, God is gracious to reveal his will and provide the strength to walk in it. He meets us in our rebellion. He meets us in our suffering. And he meets us in the daily struggles of work, parenthood, and, for Loren Anderson, biblical leadership.
“…he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”